Elections may be won or lost by votes, but individuals and organizations can win the public relations game even if the votes don’t add up, or even if there are no votes at all.
Winner – Television News: Much of the confusion over results during past elections was due to networks and cable news stations trying to beat each other to the punch when it came time to call a winner. This time around, the mainstream media smartly exercised an abundance of caution, perhaps even re-establishing themselves as a credible source of Election Day news. By learning from its collective past mistakes, the television news media scored a PR win.
Too Close to Call – Diebold Inc.: The voting machine maker and other e-voting technology vendors “escaped total meltdown” in the elections, according to Computerworld’s Robert L. Mitchell, though there were plenty of reports about technology problems across the country. Diebold has been under fire for three years now and the company has done little to help itself dig out of a big PR hole. The somewhat smooth performance of the company’s machines won’t erase people’s bad memories or worse impressions, but it gave Diebold two years to get it right and build goodwill. Remember, repairing a poor public image can take a long time, which is why it’s important to get it right the first time.
Loser – Senator George Allen (R – VA): Even if Allen can win via a recount, he’s lost the momentum that he thought would catapult him to a White House run. Allen was cruising towards a win in August when he made a racially insensitive comment that blew up into a full-blown scandal. Other mini-scandals followed, and in the waning days before the election, a liberal blogger launched a one-man campaign to bring Allen down, getting roughed up on camera by Allen supporters in the process. Allen’s team showed poor crisis management skills, reacting too late to problems and spinning their wheels too often, allowing small issues to fester into big ones. Allen lit the fuse, but his staff carried the bomb and let it explode on Election Day.
Winner – Democratic Party: The Democrats could easily become losers if they don’t follow-up on their Election Day win by actually making something happen. The Democrats have long been accused of being whiners instead of solution providers, and now they have an opportunity to show they can be the latter. It’s easy for individuals, companies and organizations to bask in the glory of a PR win, but to keep the good PR train rolling, you have to follow up constantly. This is what the Democrats have to do now.
Too Class To Call – Women and Minorities: The first female speaker of the House is a good sign, but the fact that the number of African-American and Hispanic representatives will stay the same and not increase is a bad sign. A nasty Senate face-off in Tennessee provides ample evidence that race continues to be a major issue in this nation, but the election of an African-American Muslim Congressman from Minnesota also proves that strides are being made.
Loser – Republican Party: It wasn’t just that they lost, it’s how they lost. There were far more accusations of race-baiting and dirty tactics levied against the Republicans, and I’m of the belief that this helped turn the tide in a lot of elections. (Iraq, of course, was a huge issue.) Six years in power also sets you up for referendum on your actions. Lest we forget, the Republicans won the House in the first mid-term election of President Clinton’s run, so it’s not like the party simply dropped the ball here. Nonetheless, politics is filled with people – across all parties – who take a short-term and narrow view of their actions. The public has a long memory, and sometimes the media is here to remind them of what’s important. You can’t turn back the clock on your actions.
Winners – Minimum Wage Workers: Voters in five states passed ballot measures to raise the minimum wage.
Losers – Gays and Lesbians: Voters in eight states passed ballot measures banning same-sex marriages.
Too Close to Call – Democracy: Voter turnout remains a big issue in America, and this year’s election had mixed results. In states with ballot issues, voter turnout was generally higher than in states without ballot issues. Regardless, total voter turnout rivaled that of 2004, when there was a Presidential election. Companies need to do more to encourage their employees to vote, and do so in a nonpartisan way. Make that an internal PR issue the next time an election occurs.
Loser – Alan Hevesi: The New York State Comptroller won re-election, but his image was permanently tarnished when a scandal over his use of state funds to pay for a driver for his wife resurfaced during the last days of the race. Hevesi basically won by default, as his main opponent was ripped by virtually every newspaper for not being qualified. Just because you win the contest it doesn’t mean you’re a winner. As it stands, I voted for a write-in candidate for comptroller – myself.
Writing about politics can be a dicey matter, but I hope we can learn from some of the PR winners and losers of this election. For the record, I’ve never been much of a “party man.” I’ve been a registered Independent (i.e., no party) since 1998 and I have not given money to any political campaigns in over five years. I vote every election though!
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.